Maya Wiley has a clear vision for New York City.

“We need this city to not only recover from COVID-19, but also be reimagined as a city where we could all live with dignity,” Wiley told BK Reader.

By that, Wiley envisions a place where residents have access to affordable housing, jobs that pay livable wages and streets that are safe for everyone.

The 56-year-old civil rights lawyer running for New York City mayor announced her candidacy in a campaign video on Oct. 8. Wiley, a Brooklynite, is a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio and was an analyst on MSNBC. If elected, she will become the city’s first woman and second Black mayor.

Maya Wiley in Brooklyn. Photo: Julia Xanthos Liddy

“I know and believe this city can be better than what we have been,” she said, pondering the huge challenges made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It will take someone to step up who is not a traditional politician, who is not owned or captured by any [political] machine or any power base.”

Running an outsider campaign

In the video, Wiley proudly states she is not a conventional candidate, saying an outsider was needed in City Hall.

“Electing the same kinds of people, bringing the same old broken promises over and over again and expecting things will be different — that’s the risk we can’t afford right now,” she said.

Wiley must defeat a growing field of seasoned politicians in the 2021 Democratic primary race to succeed a term-limited de Blasio.

On Oct. 22, City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, a Brooklyn Democrat whose district includes Sunset Park and Red Hook, entered the candidate field. City Comptroller Scott Stringer is one of the heavyweights in the race, which Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is expected to officially join.

However, Wiley, in her first run for political office, is unintimidated and she rejected the inexperienced candidate label.

“I am experienced. I’m just not a politician,” she stated emphatically. “I’m experienced in fighting for people’s rights and justice. I am experienced in knowing what it is like to be Black or Brown in this city. I have experience in how city government works.”

Wiley pointed out that her resume includes working three decades as a racial justice advocate and policy expert, as well as serving two and a half years in the de Blasio administration at the senior cabinet level and as director of the city’s Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises program.

Crisis of leadership

In the video, Wiley also notes “a crisis of confidence in our city’s leadership,” which some interpreted as Wiley distancing herself from the unpopular mayor.

Wiley said she did not personally know de Blasio before he asked her to serve as chief legal counsel – a position she stepped down from in 2016 amid a federal corruption investigation of the mayor.

Her relationship with de Blasio was “cordial,” she said, adding she was “proud and grateful for the opportunity to serve New York City.”

“If you do what you believe is principled and right, you do maintain relationships even when you disagree. That is what I have always done,” she said.

Upon leaving the administration, de Blasio appointed Wiley to serve as chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which hears misconduct complaints against NYPD officers.

Platform

As a longtime civil right activist and attorney, it’s no surprise that criminal justice and policing reform is on Wiley’s agenda. She demands not only law enforcement accountability, but also cultural change.

Maya Wiley 2021 Mayoral Campaign. Photo: Supplied.

“We have to transform policing and what police should be doing,” Wiley said.

Part of what’s needed is leadership that distinguishes between criminal activity, which requires a police response, and situations that other agencies should handle.

She said the city urgently needed mental health experts who could respond quickly to people having a psychotic crisis. Cops lacked adequate training to deescalate those situations.

Wiley’s other policy priorities include education, housing and homelessness, health care, jobs and economy, and the city’s budget.

A Brooklyn for everyone

Born in Syracuse but raised in Washington D.C., Wiley has lived in Brooklyn since 1991. Her first home was in Clinton Hill – Fort Greene and she now lives in Ditmas Park.

She adores the borough’s vibrancy and diversity. Wiley recalled strolling through Prospect Park one day and seeing a group of Salvadorans playing music and, a few feet away, a Jamaican family enjoying a day out in the park. Strolling further, she saw West African drummers performing.

“It’s the people. It’s the food and the festivals that I love,” she said. “This is what we can’t lose, the fact that we’ve got everybody. Brooklyn has a place for everybody.”

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Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is a New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist. During his career, Nigel has written for several newspapers and magazines. He has extensive experience covering politics and was a...

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